Rabbi With Midlife Crisis Looks for Answers

Seeking Sinai on the Sawtooth Trail

Kurt Hoffman

By Niles Elliot Goldstein

Published October 13, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

We both knew it was over. Though I’d been the spiritual leader of my congregation in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village since its founding in 1999, and while we’d weathered the horrors of 9/11, personal tragedies and a catastrophic recession together — as well as celebrated births, marriages and other joyous events — if I had to officiate at another bar or bat mitzvah, I’d lose it. After a decade of service, it was time for me to move on, and it was time for them to find a new rabbi who wasn’t bored and burned out. Two months before my final paycheck, I left the synagogue, New York and my wife, and spent a couple of weeks by myself in a cabin near Hood River, Ore.

My marriage, too, had been headed south for a long time. While I loved my wife, my heart told me that our relationship needed to come to an end. Despite the truth I felt in my heart, my brain was torn by the issue: “Why should I leave a situation that had become so… familiar?” I drank alone at night in my basement cave to try to numb my questions and doubts. If my situation didn’t change, and soon, I would continue to damage my body and hide from the difficult reality that I was depressed.

Oregon wasn’t an escape, it was a mirror — still, silent and far removed from the frenzy of New York City, a place I had grown more and more weary of after almost two decades of living and working there. I landed in Portland in early July, picked up my rental car, and drove east for an hour or so through the Columbia River Gorge until I emerged in the town of Hood River. Then, after stopping for supplies, I turned south toward Mount Hood and my isolated cabin that was tucked away in its foothills.

In my seclusion, I forced myself to face the life-altering choices that loomed before me. Within two months I’d be unemployed for the first time in my life. I asked myself, “What am I going to do next, a rabbi who has no desire to serve another congregation?” Differences with my lay leaders about our community’s direction, a lack of intellectual stimulation with my work, disappointment in the commitment of many of those I’d committed to — these were just a few of the reasons I felt dissatisfied. And then I turned to the more emotional and frightening question: Should I get a divorce from a woman I still care about? These two questions reverberated inside my soul day and night, whether I was on a hike, river rafting, going for a drive or watching the sunset. I couldn’t shake them — nor would I allow myself to. Was I about to enter a brave new world and free myself from the burdens of boredom and despair, or was I, like Ahab, a wounded man in midlife, pursuing the phantom of fulfillment that would either elude me or drive me to the ends of the earth — and, perhaps, self-destruction?

All I had were questions.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "1. Sex. She had it. She liked it. She didn’t make a big deal of it." What were your favorite Elaine moments on Seinfeld?
  • "Mamie Eisenhower had one, and if you came of age during the 1950s, chances are you had one, too. I’m referring to the charm bracelet, that metallic cluster of miniaturized icons that hung from, and often strained, the wrist of every self-respecting, well-dressed woman in postwar America." Do you have charm bracelet memories? Share them with us!
  • How the Gaza War started — and how it can end:
  • This could be the first ancient synagogue mosaic to feature a non-biblical narrative.
  • "Suddenly we heard a siren, but it was very faint. We pulled the kids out of the pool, and then we heard a big boom."
  • Why the bloody onslaught in Gaza is built on politics and lies: Read and share this explosive insight from J.J. Goldberg.
  • The crisis in Israel caught two interns — an Israeli and a Palestinian — far from home. Guess what? They're still friends.
  • The gang's all here!
  • "Neither the 'blood feud' nor the 'honor killing' theory of Abu Khdeir's murder ever made sense — and their manufacture constituted a blood libel against all Palestinians." What do you think?
  • Why hasn't the Zionist Organization of American condemned the revenge killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir?
  • Why recognize an independent Kurdistan now?
  • So. Many. Nazi. Jokes.
  • Once a symbol of peaceful cohabitation, the Jerusalem light rail is now a prime target for violence.
  • "My wife and I are observant Jews who are heartbroken about the fact that both of our children married non-Jews. My daughter married out first, and is now raising non-Jewish children and grandchildren and even celebrates Christmas. As for my son, he is more observant than my daughter, but still a few years ago I found out he was living with a non-Jewish woman for nine years. She is not a stable woman, emotionally or physically, and now she is pregnant and will not convert. I do not visit my children in their homes, but am pleasant when they visit us. My wife says I need to move on and welcome their partners in our home. So where to from here?"
  • These women have encountered unusual mikveh experiences and survived to tell the tale: "Among them are the adventurous vacationer who battles sharks and surfers to dunk in the freezing waters of the Indian Ocean, the mikveh attendant who is an aspiring opera star, and the late night mikveh goer who gets locked inside."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.